The next time you buy an egg [in Nigeria] stop and think of 19-year old Modupe (not her real name) who is one of the many workers toiling long hours for starvation wages at a modern day slave plantation - the Obasanjo Farms. This farm has all the trappings of a labour camp, complete with a cellblock for offenders. All the gains of the labour movement are flagrantly violated.
The farm runs twenty-four hours, split into two shifts. Workers on the morning shift resume duties by 7 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m. While those on night duty start at 5 p.m. and finish at 7 a.m. - making them ten and fourteen hour shifts respectively. This is in outright violation of the labour code.
Nor is the wage commensurate with the hours and intensity of toil. An average worker earns about two thousand five hundred Naira (N2500) monthly with a hundred Naira (N100) deductions compared to the level of work. This is nothing but capitalist greed. There is no extra pay whatsoever for overtime work. No housing, no transport, meals or laundry allowances exist. The medical allowance of two hundred Naira (N200) is a deliberate insult. It cannot pay the hospital bill for any known illness and is definitely no substitute for proper medical services.
Furthermore, 75% of its workforce are casual workers. To get round the labour regulation that stipulates decasualization after three months, the farm constantly recycles its casual labour force by sacking and re-employing them every three months. Among these casual workers is Modupe, a young school leaver who is forced to work as a "slave" for a slavemaster-president to keep herself and her family from starving. Her mother, who also works on the farm, knows this to be a repetition of the very same cycle that trapped herself but sees no way out. Obasanjo's salary scarcely sustains them, not to talk of sending a child to higher school.
And yet, his regime talks about "poverty alleviation". The family we just looked at is not unique. It is a typical Nigerian family. Statistically, they and the others slaving in Obasanjo's plantation are among the millions slaving in Obasanjo's larger farm - Nigeria. You talk about a minimum wage, Mr. President, and poverty alleviation, but how much do you pay the toilers on your farm?
Now, with the increase in bus fares due to the increase in petroleum pump prices, transportation costs alone will wipe out the entire wages of the workers, whose problems have been compounded by the absence of a staff bus and have been forced to beg for rides in the staff bus of another company close to the farm. This is in spite of the availability of buses that could serve for staff conveyance.
Workers cannot even afford to purchase food from the restaurant in the farm as these are sold at cutthroat prices.
The acquisition and development of this land was based on fraud. Bought at a ridiculously-low amount per acre during his first tenure as head of state (over twenty years ago when he ruled as a military dictator), Obasanjo played a cruel trick on the owners and on the Nigerian people. Ostensibly the land was acquired as part of the government's "operation feed the nation" programme and the owners were then paid in fifty kobo notes (one Naira is made up of 100 kobo, now a totally worthless amount of money) making the amount seem big to them, thus capitalising on their ignorance. Belatedly realising they had been had, they sought redress but Obasanjo played his joker. He brought out his "land-use decree" resting ownership of every piece of land in Nigeria on the federal government, to be acquired for whatever use whenever it so desires. This took the wind out of the sails of the landowners.
However, following his travails at the hands of Abacha, particularly after Yar'Adua's death, some of the families made attempts at taking back what had been theirs by erecting structures on some undeveloped portions of land, which had also been illegally acquired. They did this in the belief (according to sources close to his friend Jimmy Carter) that he [Obasanjo] too, would die in prison; only to run, abandoning the said structures, following his release.
Over the years, the farm that was initially said to be government property became, by sleight of hand, Obasanjo's property. Like a conjuror's trick, "operation feed the nation", OFN, became Otta Farms Nigeria (OFN) and then Obasanjo Farms Nigeria (OFN). What a con-man!
This wicked magician does not hide his disdain, nor his hostility to the working class movement. He manifests it by banning all unionism on the farm. An active workers' union would fight against the slave-like conditions under which the workers toil. By the present trade union structure, such a union structure should come under the National Union of Food, Beverages Workers. The camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, etc, were liberated. Its time to liberate the labour camp at Otta. Let's see what goes on in there. Let's unionise its workers. Are you listening, Adams? [President of the Nigerian Labour Congress] Do it in the spirit of "a New Beginning". An injury to one worker is an injury to all.